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Water Heater 101: All You Need to Know About Water Heaters

A water heater is one of today’s most important household conveniences. If you are like many who have gotten used to having hot water on demand, you only begin to appreciate its vital role in your daily life as soon as you experience an issue with your hot water supply. This water heater 101 aims to provide you with all you need to know regarding water heaters.

There are two common types of water heaters used in homes: tank-type water heaters and tankless water heaters. Part of this water heater 101 is to explain the difference between the two types of water heaters and to examine the features of each option to determine which kind is most suitable to your needs.

Tank-type water heater

Most homes today still use tank-type waters heaters for good reason. The technology is reliable and familiar. A traditional water heater is either fuel-fired or electric. Fuel-fired water heaters use natural gas or propane. Both of these are common throughout the country. All fuel-fired heaters consist of a vent for exhaust gases to escape after combustion. The primary purpose of a tank-type water heater is to efficiently store heated water until it is requested at point of use. All traditional water heaters require adequate insulation. Otherwise, heat escapes during storage which leads to more energy waste.

How does a tank-type water heater work?

Water heater 101 aims to explain simply the working principle of a water heater. Imagine putting a pot of water on the stove. Similarly, the same process applies to a tank-type water heater. The heating element located beneath the tank heats water according to a set temperature. Cold water supplied into the tank comes from a cold water line connected to the tank. Another pipe is responsible for delivering water to points of use. To regulate water temperature, a thermostat turns on the heating element if water temperature drops too low.

For safety purposes, water heaters come with a temperature and pressure valve. The valve opens when the temperature or pressure is too high. Another pipe connected to the valve serves as an escape route for water coming from the tank when the valve is open. You should always know when the valve opens and the best indication is when water collects at the end of the pipe. Therefore, always put a bucket at the end of the valve pipe.

Tank-type water heater parts

Now that you know the basic working principle of a tank-type water heater, this water heater 101 also details the parts of a conventional heater and how it differs from a tankless water heater. The following are the components of a tank-type water heater:

• Storage tank

• Dip tube

• Discharge pipe

• Burner or heating element

• Exhaust vent

• Pressure relief valve

• Thermostat

• Thermocouple

• Drain valve

• Anticorrosion anode rod

The parts above are specific to a gas-fired water heater. For an electric water heater, the heating element is replaced by electrical resistance heating element found in the middle and bottom of the tank.

Tankless water heater

Now that we have discussed the basics of a tank-type water heater, this water heater 101 article moves on to explain what instantaneous water heaters are and how they work. The main different between a conventional water heater and a tankless water heater is that in an instant water heater, there is no storage tank. Instead, water is heated on demand. When you turn on the faucet or valve at point of use, which is the only time your tankless water heater starts working to heat water.

Instant water heaters are popular because of their higher efficiency rating. Most tankless water heaters have at least 80% efficiency, which is what the US Department of Energy requires. Newer models have even higher AFUE rating of 90% and higher.

The energy saving feature of a tankless water heater happen in two ways. First, you eliminate heat loss from storing hot water in a tank. Next, you only use energy to heat water when needed.

How do tankless water heaters work?

As we continue with our water heater 101, here we learn about the working principle of a tankless water heater. When you turn on a tap to demand hot water, cold water travels through pipes and into the heating unit. Depending on your fuel source, the heating source is either gas or electricity. One advantage of an instant hot water system is the option to install multiple heaters at different points of use. You can do this to increase the pressure of hot water especially when there is consistent high demand in your home.

Thankless water heater parts

Instantaneous water heaters work differently from conventional tank-type heaters. Part of the objective of this water heater 101 is to give the homeowner an overview of the specific parts contained in a tankless water heater. If you know the parts of the unit, you’ll have an idea of which part may malfunction and need replacement. Here are the parts of an instant water heater.

• Heat exchanger

• Gas valve

• Burner

• Ignition system

• Combustion chamber

• Combustion fan

• Temperature sensors

• Safety elements

• Venting

• Electronic system

• Water valve

• Remote controller

This list may vary depending on the make and model of the heater. If you need assistance with repairs and replacement, contact a technician to avoid causing further trouble to the heating unit.

Water heater repair and replacement

The lifespan of a conventional water heater is around ten to 15 years. On the other hand, a tankless water heater can reach a lifespan of 20 years with regular maintenance. However, the working efficiency of a water heater can be affected by many factors. As such, in this water heater 101, we will also discuss when to determine if you need to schedule a repair or consider a replacement. In most cases, you may not need to replace the entire heater but only a part or some of the parts. Here are some of the commonly replaced parts of a water heater:

• Dip tube. In cases when water is not heating to the expected temperature, the dip tube could be cracked or broken. In tank-type water heaters, the dip tube is responsible for sending cold water to the bottom of the tank so it can be heated.

• Thermocouple. In gas-powered water heaters, a broken thermocouple may be the reason why hot water isn’t heating.

• Heating element. In an electric water heater, the heating element must have continuity in order to work. If there is no continuity, the heating element needs replacement.

• Gas valve. If the gas valve is not opening, the burner won’t light up to heat water. You will know that it’s time to replace the gas valve when the ignition source is okay as well as the valve inlet, yet the gas valve still does not open.

• Temperature and pressure release valve. When you notice the water tank leaking, it could be because the temperature and pressure release valve is broken.

If you notice these issues with your heater, it is time to contact an HVAC technician to address the problem. As much as possible, don’t attempt to replace any parts by yourself or you may end up damaging the entire unit.

When it comes to the right timing of replacing your water heater, you have to keep track of tell-tale signs suggesting that it is time to get a new one. The US Department of Energy advice that when your water heater is already seven years old, you should start looking into replacing your water heating unit. Other signs include leaks in your water heater as well as when you are not getting enough hot water consistently. In these instances, it is often more cost-effective to replace the unit that to have parts replaced.

What to consider when looking for a water heater replacement?

Our last topic in this water heater 101 is how to find the right water heater replacement for your needs. If you are investing on a new model, you should give important to efficiency ratings. While the Department of Energy only requires water heaters to have an efficiency rating of at least 80%, it does not mean that you should settle for the bare minimum. The higher the efficiency rating, the more energy savings you will have in the long run.

A tank-type water heater is always a good choice especially since it is reliable. However, if you want to increase energy-efficiency and save on your energy bills, look into the option of using instant water heaters.

Another factor that will affect your choice is the size of the heater that will fit the demand in your home. You’ll have to take into account all points of use such as sinks, toilers, baths, and showers. Lastly, your choice also depends on the fuel-source availability in your area.

If you need expert assistance with repairs, replacements, and installations, Fischer Heating can help you. Call them today for an estimate or for advice on any concerns you have with your hot water unit.

Image Copyright: Nadezhda Khvatova / 123RF Stock Photo



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